What happened when Slipknot headlined Download 2023

The Nine hit hard and with frustration at their fifth Download headlining turn…

What happened when Slipknot headlined Download 2023
Luke Morton
Jenn Fine, Andy Ford

There’s something in the air tonight, and it’s not just the looming threat of thunderstorms, as the gathering black clouds finally cool down a baking, dusty Donington. A palpable sense of tension hangs over the main stage, as the past few days have been some of the most chaotic and uncertain in the headliners' turbulent history, with the 90,000-strong crowd unsure if lynchpin and founding member Clown is actually going to be here (spoiler: he is) and the recent surprise departure of Craig Jones.

A black curtain dangles from the rafters, emblazoned with the same iconic Slipknot logo that’s plastered across the shirts of thousands of Maggots pushing further and further forward, jostling for prime pit positions, trying to gain the best vantage point to witness the most destructive force in heavy music.

And then it begins… The curtain hits the floor and Prelude 3.0 plays out over the hallowed grounds, and The Nine emanate from the shadows, before swandiving into the punishing The Blister Exists, sending adrenaline levels into the red and circle-pits into overdrive. And for those who woke up and chose violence, more mosh fuel is on the way, as the band fire through the old-school, speedfreak favourite Liberate and solid gold metal banger Psychosocial either side of newies Dying Song and Yen before anyone has chance to catch breath.

Usually a man of many words, it’s quite some time before Corey Taylor addresses the ever-growing crowd directly, admitting he lost a £20 bet with the rest of the band at just how unhinged the Donington faithful would be (very, it turns out). Welcoming the hordes to the ’Knot’s record-equalling fifth Download headline set, the loudest ovation is reserved for Clown who managed to fly in this morning, having been home to support his wife through health issues.

Slipknot are at their best when emotions are high and it’s clear Clown needs this, hammering all holy hell out of his drums like they owe him money. The undiluted catharsis usually found coursing through the veins of the legions down front is just as visible onstage, with all nine members – including Craig’s unnamed and unannounced replacement – pouring every ounce of energy and emotion into the 18-track career-spanning set.

From the perennially awesome Eyeless to the criminally underplayed Left Behind to an invigorating rendition of Snuff to Download Festival’s national anthem Wait And Bleed (dedicated to a certain Kerrang! magazine), it’s sledgehammer hit after hit for 90 minutes. In a weekend headlined by Hall Of Famers Metallica and legends-in-waiting Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot do not come to fuck around, reminding everyone just how dangerous and formidable they are with a triumphant closing salvo of Duality, Custer and Spit It Out for the biggest jump-the-fuck-up in history.

Nothing comes close to the Slipknot live experience and when they fully click into gear, they’re unstoppable. And tonight it is full speed or nothing. A victorious, emotional close to one of the best Downloads in its 20-year tenure. Normality is peering over the horizon, but tonight was a true celebration of freedom, perseverance and survival on both sides of the barrier. Slipknot forever.

Read this: The big review: Download Festival 2023

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?